Educator Dr. Marcus Smith, Salisbury’s last superintendent, dies at 86

Published 12:01 am Thursday, June 8, 2017

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — Longtime educator Dr. Marcus C. Smith, 86, died Wednesday in Salisbury.

Smith was the last superintendent of Salisbury City Schools before the 1989 merger leading to the formation of Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

Both Smith and Rowan County Schools Superintendent Wade Mobley received considerable praise for making the transition to a merged system as smooth as possible. They retired as the merger took hold, though Smith remained active in civic roles, in the Lutheran church and as an education consultant for years to come.

“I feel like I’m stopping at the pinnacle and feel good about it,” Smith told the Post after submitting his 1989 retirement letter.

Smith forged a 37-year career in public schools as a teacher, principal and administrator. He served as Salisbury Schools superintendent for more than nine years.

Smith also was the father of the Rev. Dr. Timothy Smith, current bishop of the N.C. Synod, which has been meeting this week in Greensboro.

Friends and family knew Smith as a man who loved roses, church music, cooking and singing. He grew up in a large house in the town of Hudson and his family often rented rooms to boarders, many of whom were teachers, thanks to his father”s seat on the local board of education.

Smith once acknowledged in an interview that he probably was influenced to pursue a career in education by listening to teachers talk in the parlor after dinner.

His interest in music also took root at that time. The Caldwell County Choral Society met in the Smith house every week, and his mother would accompany the group on piano and organ, while his father played the violin.

Smith’s own early education came from a chalkboard in the kitchen. He learned the alphabet from that chalkboard, and he also picked up a lot of his cooking skills from helping his mother in the kitchen.

His specialties became beef vegetable soup and spaghetti sauce, according to a 1979 story in the Post.

His father was a contractor, and by age 10, Smith was carrying water buckets on some of his dad’s building projects.

Smith had plans to attend the University of Michigan and study architecture, but his dad’s death from a heart attack when he was a senior in high school changed his plans. He attended nearby Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory.

Smith earned his bachelor’s degree from Lenoir-Rhyne and a master’s degree from Appalachian State University. He did additional graduate study at the George Peabody College for Teachers, Indiana University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC-Charlotte.

He earned his doctorate in education from Duke University in 1978.

Smith started as a business education teacher at Lenoir High School in 1952, while also teaching business and psychology part time at Caldwell College of Commerce.

His first principal’s job came at East Harper Elementary School in Lenoir in 1959. By 1967, he was principal at Lenoir Junior High.

In 1968, Smith and his family arrived in Salisbury, where he was director of instruction for Salisbury City Schools. He became assistant superintendent in 1971 and associate superintendent in 1976.

Dorothy, Smith’s wife of almost 63 years, taught at Overton Elementary School.

Smith was named superintendent of Salisbury City Schools on Jan. 23, 1979, and officially took the position March 1, 1980. He followed Superintendent Harold D. Isenberg at his retirement.

By then, Smith was considered a leading state and national figure in curriculum development, a specialist whose advice was often sought by school systems across the state.

“I am so instructionally minded,” Smith said at his selection, “that it’s going to be difficult for me to change and be in the role of administrator, but I have the feeling that an administrator can serve both roles satisfactorily.”

For the Brothers of the Brush contest in 2003, associated with 250 Fest, Smith grew a formidable white beard. He ended up placing second in the “best untrimmed category.”

A full obituary for Smith is on page 4A. He and Dorothy had three children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.